Chicago International Film Festival 2015: Hitchcock/Truffaut, by Aaron Pinkston
In 1966, a landmark meeting between two of the greatest film icons took place in a series of interviews. At the time, Alfred Hitchcock was the biggest director in Hollywood. He had released all but his last three films, fresh off pre-Cold War thriller Torn Curtain and his landmark run that included Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds. François Truffaut had most of his career ahead of him, though he was already a big name in world cinema with incredible trio of films to open his career: The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim. Coming from a criticism background and a deep love of the British filmmaker, Truffaut set out to uncover the truth that Hitchcock was more than a pulp storyteller. The result was Hitchcock/Truffaut, one of the great film books ever written, and the subject of Kent Jones’s new documentary.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is wall-to-wall with information and different presentations: film clips, archive footage, commentary from today’s best filmmakers (Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Fincher, Assayas, James Grey, Paul Schrader, and more), voice-over narration filling in historical context, and text footage from the book. Often, multiple points of information are being displayed simultaneously, making the intensely dense with information. In all, Hitchcock/Truffaut is part appreciation of the source, part historical record of the interview, part exploration of Hitchcock’s work.
The beginning and end of the documentary focus on the relationship between the two men and artist through their incredible interview. It sets the stage well, going through the events that led them together. Seeing Truffaut and Hitchcock talk about each other’s films is clearly the most interesting part of the film, but in place of watching the unedited version of their filmed discussion, it really can’t sustain a whole feature-length documentary. So, Hitchcock/Truffaut pivots into a broader discussion of Hitchcock’s work with thoughts from the various voices scattered through the film. The doc remains lean and fast-paced, even if it might not be purely focused on its source.
This is an intellectual study, taking its lead of the book’s many discussions about form, theme and human psychology, but it is also incredibly fun. Not only does the documentary include scene and glorious scene from both directors’ landmark work, but also the two big personalities at the center. There is more than one laugh-out-loud moment from Hitchcock during the archived interviews, and Jones edits the film playfully around them. Having not read the book, I was surprised how many of Hitchcock’s best quotes (‘actors are cattle,’ for example) come from here.
Hitchcock/Truffaut would undoubtedly work for all types of Hitchcock fans and non-fans. It will still provide insights to those who know the work and hearing the interview tied together with images and scenes from the described films makes it different than reading the book. And it is something to see what Scorsese loves about Vertigo or Fincher breaking down a scene in Psycho or Bogdanovich describing the crowd reaction to the first time anyone saw the ‘shower scene.’ Someone who hasn’t seen the films will get a clear and smart introduction to Hitchcock’s style and themes. Still, Hitchcock/Truffaut is meant to be a companion to the films, not a replacement, so if you are interested in these films (especially Vertigo and Psycho, which get the largest chunks of discussion), I urge you to see them first.
Like the book, Hitchcock/Truffaut jumps around the director’s career and doesn’t strictly stick to the classics. There are insightful and funny anecdotes for ‘minor’ films like I Confess and Topaz and a whole sequence of Hitchcock’s style in silent film, which the director calls the purest emotional form of the medium.
This type of documentary, which is almost solely a critical look at the work of a film artist, is rare – completely subjugated to the world of DVD special features. Another film about Hitchcock would itch to get into the juicy bits of his life outside of his work. There is a place for that, but thankfully Hitchcock/Truffaut stays on course.
Chicago International Film Festival Showtimes:
Saturday, October 24, 5:00 pm
Monday, October 26, 6:00 pm